05/06.09.1943 No. 75 Squadron Stirling III EE893 JN-N F/O. 'Tom' Wilkinson
Date: 05/06th September 1943 (Sunday/Monday)
Unit: No. 75 Squadron
Type: Stirling III
Base: RAF Mepal, Cambridgeshire.
Location: Schwanheim, Germany.
Pilot: F/O. ‘Tom’ Ernest Stanley Wilkinson NZ/417138 RNZAF Age 25. Killed
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Timothy Whatley 1314153 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
Nav: Sgt. Gordon Noel Simes NZ/415376 RNZAF Survived PoW No: 43282 Camp: Stalag Kopernikus
Air/Bmr: Fl/Sgt. Neil G.R. Treacher RNZAF Survived PoW No: 222848 Camp: Stalag Mühlberg-Elbe
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Jeffery James Waterman 1312274 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. E.S. Robson RAFVR Survived PoW No: 222770 Camp: Stalag Mühlberg-Elbe
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. George Stanley Wilkinson 642538 RAF Age 27. Killed
We would like to thank Tracy Neal - Senior reporter of ‘The Nelson Mail’, New Zealand for providing permission to reproduce the article published on May 19th 2012. Also to Brian Ramsey, Aircrew Remembered follower and avid supporter in New Zealand for arranging this. Additional thanks to Uwe Benkel for arranging the fine memorial erected to the crew lost.
REASON FOR LOSS:
Despite the bomber's unwieldy character, the gunners on board still managed to down one or two lethally fast German Messerschmitts. Simes had cleverly found a way to confuse the enemy by picking up their chatter on the radio and broadcasting it back to them.
But their luck ran out on that September night and they never returned from the mission. Their plane was downed by enemy flak fired by Major Heinrich Wohlers (1) over the village of Schwanheim - a quiet little ribbon of a town with gingerbread houses and narrow cobbled streets cradled beneath smooth sloping hills and a deep-green forest.
Villagers watched as the ailing aircraft flew silently at low level above them, both port side engines blown of and a fighter plane close on its tail.
Artist impression of the final minutes of EE893 (Marek Dziewa)
Treacher, the bomb aimer, used a fire axe in a desperate effort to smash free one of the gunners tapped in his turret by the damage done to the plane when it was hit.
Tom Wilkinson knew they were doomed and yelled at the crew to bale out.
Treacher followed the order and leapt out, but landed an a building and was left hanging from his parachute as an angry axe-wielding mob approached.
Twelve-year-old villager Helmut Andelfinger watched wide-eyed as the flaming bomber swept across' his village. He then saw Treacher land on the building and get rescued from a crowd of vengeful residents by a local Luftwaffe fighter pilot, Alfons Rohner.
Rohner held the weapon-wielding villagers at bay before cutting down the injured 'Treacher and carrying him on his back to get first aid.
Tom Wilkinson, whom some believe most probably looked down on the village and thought of his Brightwater home, steered suddenly away. He tried finding an open space to crash-land but ran out of options. The left wing of the bomber clipped trees as it tried to clear a ridge and the plane plummeted into a nearby paddock.
Mr Simes got out moments before impact. He was found still attached to the aircraft, wrapped up in his parachute. His knife was found near him and was used to cut him free from the parachute lines.
Left: Major Heinrich Wohlers (Tom Kracker)
Robson was the only other survivor, Whatley may well have died bailing out as his body was found six months later in the nearby forest. (2) He and Waterman, plus pilot Tom Wilkinson and rear gunner George Wilkinson were buried at Schwanheim, and later interred in Germany's Rheinberg War Cemetery.
The three survivors became prisoners of war, for the next 18 months listed as missing in action, and for that time disappeared from their families' lives.
Robson died in captivity.(3)
George Wilkinson's young wife Elsie regularly visited the Liverpool docks, waiting for the PoW ships to come, hoping her husband might have been aboard one. She took their daughter, Beryl, who at the time of the crash was 17 months old.
The remains of the shattered bomber had been further dismantled and parts taken away by enemy investigators. Villagers grabbed whatever remnants they could, including a flying helmet, map case and knife, and held them as souvenirs.
The passing decades gradually hid all physical traces of what happened that night in Schwaheim, but not the emotional toll.
On April 23, 1945, Treacher was among the PoWs liberated from Stalag IVB, Muhlberg-on-Elbe, Germany, by the Russian Army.
It was his 23rd birthday.
He and Simes - by then the only two survivors of the mission - held the only clues to what had happened.
On their release, Simes and Treacher remained close and eventually returned to New Zealand to settle and raise families, but Treacher never got over what happened. In 1968, and by then with a young family, he took his own life. His body was found holding a photograph of the unidentified airman he could not save from the turret in the plummeting plane.
The story might have ended there, except for Gordon Simes' lingering memories, imparted to his family in Stoke, and the few stories Neil Treacher told his family, including son Rob who was a child when he lost his father.
Answers started to become clearer when the last remaining fragments of the Stirling bomber were unearthed in April last year by German researchers Uwe Benkel, Roland Gotz and Lorenz Stelgner.
The discovery was followed by an exhibition and documentary, and revelation that there were villagers who had kept parts of the aircraft for all those years.
The research team planned a memorial ceremony for May 13, 2012, and set about tracking family members, which led them to Gordon Simes in Stoke.
Kate Howard Neal in England, the granddaughter of George Wilkinson, had by chance learned of the planned ceremony during an internet search of his name.
Her mother, Beryl, had been the child waiting with her mother Elsie Wilkinson for the POW ships at the Liverpool docks, and the man who never came home.
Elsie Wilkinson eventually remarried and the Wilkinson family cut ties with her.
My grandmother loved George until she died in 1990, Ms Howard Neal says.
It was not until the family started to investigate further last Christmas that they learned there were any survivors from the crash.
L-R back row: Janne Hennah, Rob Treacher, Will Simes, Jenny Simes and Uwe Benkel. Left to right front row: Lorenz Steigner and Roland Gotz (see credits)
Above left: The village of Schwanheim on the day the memorial was unveiled. Right: The building where Neil Treacher landed (courtesy Uwe Benkel)
Will Simes receives his father's flying helmet held by a villager since that day in 1943. Also shown are Uwe Benkel, Schwanheim Mayor, Herbert Schwarzmuller, Roland Gotz and Alfons Funk (courtesy Uwe Benkel)
Gordon Simes died in January 2012, at peace with what happened as a result of the work done by the German researchers.
Contact from Roland and Uwe and messages from the village provided a great deal of peace for my father,'' his son, Will Simes, says.
The Marahau orchardist and his sister, Nola Muller, were determined to help mark their father's part in the historic event and approached the Nelson Mail with their story in an effort to seek any relatives of Tom Wilkinson, hoping to trace the daughter they were quietly aware of without knowing her whereabouts.
The story grew after Tom Wilkinson's 91-year-old brother-in-law, Dudley Walker, of Richmond, talked of the "hard case'' who drove trucks for a job and who loved to drive his V8 car at speed around Nelson. He also spoke of how Wilkinson had been "not terribly excited'' about going to war.
The story reached a household in Otaki and 70-year old Keitha Howell came forward with the news she was Tom Wilkinson's daughter. Until then she never knew he died a hero, and that he had known about her. She had been put up for adoption at birth because of the stigma surrounding unwed mothers, and in her mid 40s, she set about tracing her birth parents.
A final chapter in the long running saga to find her roots closed last month with the handing over of her father's war medals, held by Mr Walker, after a spur-of-the-moment trip to Nelson. She arrived to attend the Anzac service in Richmond, wearing the heart locket and watch brooch her father had given her birth mother before he went to War.
When Will (Simes) mentioned he was going, I thought I wanted to go too.''
She says a missing piece from the puzzle in her life had now been found. "I'm happy now. I know who I am. I also know now that Dad knew about me and I'm happy knowing that.''
She is happy too that she is now able to impart the legacy to her four grown children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
"He didn't die with nothing following.''
The aftermath that for some has lingered for decades was finally laid to rest at an emotion-charged ceremony in Schwanheim.
It was especially poignant for Ms Howard Neal and her mother, who was the only child of the crew members present to have been born during the war, and whose father had died in the crash.
"For her it was like a funeral service because she was only 17 months when he died,'' Ms Howard Neal said from her home in Kent, England.
The ceremony brought Neil Treacher and Gordon Simes' sons together for the first time.
Rob Treacher, from Auckland, and his sister, Janne Hennah, of Tauranga, made a last-minute decision to travel to Germany, after initially saying it would not be possible to attend. They were glad they did.
''The love and level of reconciliation shown by the people of this region was unfathomable.
The ceremony was an incredible event,'' Mr leacher said from Schwanheim just hours after the event.
A message from New Zealand ambassador to Germany Peter Rider said that World War II gave rise to many unsung stories of heroism and sacrifice, and also helped forge unexpected bonds of friendship. ''For the citizens of Schwanheim, events on 6 September 1943 will always tie them to Nelson in far-away New Zealand,'' Mr Rider said.
Mrs Howell did not feel up to travelling to Germany, but her father was represented at the memorial by Paul Dallimore and his wife, Christelle Dallimore, the daughter of Nelson woman Pixie Sanders, who is Tom Wilkinson's cousin.
The Dallimores were equally moved by the ceremony and said that the Selfless act of unification by the people of Schwanheim gives us more reason to remember the brave sacrifice made by others''.
Crash site ‘Then and Now.’ (courtesy Uwe Benkel)
We Simes was presented with a special gift - his father's flying helmet, map case and the knife used to cut him free from his parachute, and the titbit of information about the sandwich found in the map case.
''Dad had taken a snack with him on that flight,'' Mr Simes said, still euphoric from the ceremony.
He and others helped attach a piece of armour plating recovered from the aircraft to a memorial stone set in place overlooking the crash site.
Schwanheim Mayor Herbert Schwartzmuller presented Mr Simes with the town crest to give to Tasman District Mayor Richard Kempthorne, who had sent his greetings to Schwanheim acknowledging the important connection between the two countries and two regions.
Mr Simes and his wife, Jenny, are now touring Europe while Mr Treacher has returned home from his first trip to Europe.
I just feel as though lots of pieces of the puzzle have come together,'' he said.
(1) We have not, as yet, been able to confirm this claim. Maj. Heinrich Wohlers was a night fighter ace with, at the time of his death, credited with some 28 aircraft confirmed. He died in a crash on the 15th March 1944 east of Echterdingen airfield on a transit flight, due to thick fog and also engine failure on final approach.
(2) Understood to have been found by a forest worker, Herr Wilhelm Spenger.
(3) To date we have not been able to confirm that Sgt. Robson died in captivity - not listed anywhere - can you assist us with this?
The beautiful memorial to the crew of EE893. (courtesy Uwe Benkel)
Crew graves at Rheinberg War Cemetery (courtesy Tony Jupp)
F/O. Ernest Stanley Wilkinson. Rheinberg War Cemetery. Coll. Grave 18.B.13-15. Son of Stanley Milton Wilkinson and Merle Jane Wilkinson, of Brightwater, Nelson, New Zealand.
Sgt. Timothy Whatley. Rheinberg War Cemetery. Coll. Grave 18.B.13-15. Son of Alfred and Eva Jessie Whatley.
Sgt. Jeffery James Waterman. Rheinberg War Cemetery. Coll. Grave 18.B.13-15. Son of William Alan Rex and Dora Waterman, of Yeovil, Somerset. Further detailed information (via the Stoke Under Ham Parish Magazine and Tony Trupp): The Air Ministry presume him to have been killed. Jeffery was a credit to his parents, his Church and his Country, and his loss to Stoke is a serious one. All his life he was closely associated with the work of the Parish Church as a member of the Choir and Sunday School. He was for many years in the Scouts and became one of the Patrol Leaders. When on leave, one could always rely upon seeing him in the congregation. He was a fellow whose religion meant much to him and great things were hoped of him in connection with the work of God in the Parish. The Vicar had the privilege of listening to a talk on training for the RAF he gave to the Air Training Corps at the Senior School about a year ago. It was an excellent talk, bright and witty, and held the attention of all present. We were not surprised to hear that he had been offered a commission in the Air Force. We understand he refused the promotion lest it should interfere with the particular work he was engaged on. Perhaps the one thing more than any other that marked his home life was his thought for and devotion to his parents and his two sisters.
Fl/Sgt. George Stanley Wilkinson. Rheinberg War Cemetery. Coll. Grave 18.B.13-15. Son of Stanley and Mary Wilkinson, husband of Elsie Wilkinson, of Denton, Gravesend, Kent.
Researched for relatives of the crew. With thanks to Tracy Neal - Senior reporter of the Nelson Mail, of New Zealand, Uwe Benkel and his team for the recovery and placing of the memorial, Tony Jupp who’s wife was a relative of Sgt. Jeffrey Waterman. Brian Ramsey other sources as shown below.